Josh & Jill {wedding}

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Their love story, as told by Jill: “My dad was asked to speak at a youth retreat in New York. I didn’t want to go and wasn’t sure that I’d be able to since I was in school and it was one of my top priorities. I would be starting my last semester a few days after I got home and I wanted to focus on it. I decided to go and was excited about seeing some of my friends again. On Sunday morning, we walked into church. I saw one of the guys I’d been with on a missions trip to Africa with, standing in the back of church, but didn’t think much of it. What I didn’t see was that his cousin Josh was with him. When I walked in, Lee elbowed Josh and looked at me and said that he should check me out. Josh told him “no thanks” and didn’t think much of it. I never saw him that day. I met Josh officially the next day when I sat down in my small group study time. A guy suggested that we all introduce ourselves and said that he was Josh Kauffman. I didn’t think about him that much but I did notice (and loved) that he wasn’t afraid to speak out in the study time. I chatted with him the next day after our study group time, but didn’t think much of it until later that night one of my friends asked me if I thought that Josh liked me. I was like, “who’s Josh?” but then remembered that I had talked with him for a while that day. I told her that I didn’t think so, but that we had some things in common and that I thought he was just being friendly. He was impressed with me and my eagerness to participate in the study group, but he wasn’t looking for a girlfriend, so he almost dismissed it as a distraction. On Tuesday, my name just kept coming to his mind and he kept dismissing it. Finally after that didn’t work, he told God that if he was trying to tell him something, he’d listen and try to get to know me better. So from Wednesday and on after that, I began to notice that he was being more intentional about talking with me and getting to know me and telling me about his life, but in a very honest and upright way. I also noticed that he talked to Daddy a lot and thought that was kind of cool. He also told his parents that he had met a really nice girl, but that he was being prayerful about getting to know me. By Thursday or Friday, my friend Becca told me that she was sure he was interested because he was never like that around girls he didn’t know… and I was pretty sure myself that he was at least interested. I talked to Daddy about him on Friday and asked him what he thought about Josh and he had a lot of good to say about him, but said that we had just met, so I should relate to him as a sister and to be genuine. Then he added this… I had never heard this from my daddy before. He said, “Jill, I like him and he might be the guy for you. If he is, you need to give him a little feedback and let him know that you are. Encourage him, but do it without being flirty. If momma had never clued me in on the fact that she was interested, you might not even be here, so be open, but cautious.” I was kinda shocked, but decided that he might have a point! We started trading a few texts over the next week. He said that me texting him was just what he needed. He said that he wouldn’t have asked unless he knew that there was a “connection” of some sorts on my end, and that clued him in to my interest. But at this point, we were both being very prayerful and cautious. He went off to Mexico and I didn’t hear from him much after that.046O3378

In May, Josh called and asked about starting a relationship with me. I was excited. Daddy was in touch with Mike (Josh’s dad) for a few months and they were able to talk about a lot of stuff. Daddy made arrangements to have a phone call with Josh at the end of May and the conversation went well and they made plans to talk again. Momma went with Daddy during this phone call. She didn’t know Josh, but I had talked to her about him so I think that she knew that I did like him and that he was a great guy. After talking with him, Momma asked him if he wanted to call me the next day. He said, “Absolutely!” They came home and told me that I could be expecting a phone call the next day, but that I should text him right then. So I did! It was exciting and great to know that we were starting out on this journey. I didn’t know what to do with myself… I just wandered around the yard with my phone in my hand going from place to place. a couple of my brothers laughed at me and my sisters said I was cute! I told my younger siblings that evening and they were so surprised and happy. We talked the next day and it was amazing! Being able to hear each other’s excited voices and talking was amazing. We realized how much God had brought us through and where He was taking us and we were excited to be on this new journey together as a couple. The whole relationship was kind of surreal until he came two weeks later. We were so excited to see each other again, but a little nervous at the same time. But our fears were quickly put to rest as we sat and talked, prayed together and shared hearts. We were in this together, with God and are ready to face the world! Our first date was at a lovely restaurant in Marshall. We had dinner and talked for a long time and then we headed to the center of town to meet up with my family for dessert. We had fun together and the entire weekend was amazing. We had a lot more amazing weekends after that. A few weeks after we started dating, I went to New York to meet his family and I fell in love with them. They were absolutely wonderful and I felt like I fit right in with them. It was great.

046O9893Fast forward to November… Josh and I were in love and convinced that God was leading us to pursue marriage. We knew that God had led us together and we didn’t want to live the rest of our lives without each other. He had another phone conversation with my parents asking them for permission to marry me, which they gave. Josh came to see me and told me that we were going to go out together, but said that it was a surprise. I didn’t think too much about it, but had a sneaking suspicion that he might propose. He took me to the restaurant where we had our first date. After dinner, we walked to the fountain at the center of town. It was all lit up with beautiful changing colors and as I was admiring them, Josh turned and took my hands, got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife and to spend the rest of my life with him. It was so incredible. I said “Yes!” as he slipped a beautiful ring on my finger. I was going to be his wife and was ready for the next step. We were getting married!

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Darwin & Ruthie {wedding}

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“We met for the first time on May 27, 2013. My sister and I traveled to Colorado because my uncle and his family live in Colorado. My Aunt was due to have a baby. We made plans to spend a week there to help out over the time that their baby was born.

One night we went to a softball game hosted by my uncle’s church. We didn’t know many people there besides my cousins. But I did happen to notice this guy playing softball… I thought he looked like a nice guy.

After the softball game was over, a whole bunch of us went and played volleyball. The guy that I had noticed earlier, came over and introduced himself. “I’m Darwin.” I thought he was a nice gentleman and that it was nice of him to welcome us. But I didn’t think anything more about it at the time.

After that night, we started talking and getting to know each other more. It seemed like from there on out, God kept drawing our hearts together in a way that left us speechless.

We both had standards and things we were looking for in a life partner and it seemed we were just meant to be. I came home several days after we met and we started praying and seeking God’s will and then He called dad about two weeks later and asked to start a relationship with me. My dad wanted to get to know him a little first, to see who this guy was. They set up a time for Darwin to come to Georgia so that he and my dad could get acquainted.

Dad gave his blessing for us to go ahead with our relationship! I knew that it was just another confirmation from God that we were meant to be together. We went on our first date on July 13th, 2013. From there it was a fast, challenging, exciting journey!

On September 20th, 2013 Darwin asked me to marry him. I said yes!

Time and again as our relationship continued to blossom and deepen, I have stepped back in awe as I watched God take control and orchestrate our story. We never could have planned a love story like this one on our own, but we are so thankful that God has led us together and brought us to where we are today.”

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Michael & Celine {engagement}

Meet Michael and Celine. A sweet couple who I met last year at a wedding and then got in touch with just recently about their upcoming wedding…

046O7582046O7556I was so thrilled to get to do their engagement images! We started the photoshoot at a green house and a beautiful botanical garden. Later on, we headed over to the bowling alley where I got some shots of them bowling together…

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Baby Jordan {portraits}

046O8673Meet Jordan Lane, a smiley boy of six months. He has such a fun, winning personality that I was tempted to put down the camera and just play with him. Instead, I made silly sounds behind the camera and played pic-a-boo and blew bubbles. And took pictures. Of course.

Because who could resist such cuteness?

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Ryan & Karen {wedding}

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Their love story: “Ryan is from Ohio, I’m from Georgia. We met in February of 2012 when we both served a fifteen month term at a nursing home in Arkansas.

When we first met, I viewed Ryan as just another one of the guys! I did notice that he was a great guy.

Several months went by, and our relationship started changing. All of our friends would agree that we were the only two people in the world that didn’t know we were totally falling in love with each other! We did so much together, and had so much fun!

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After much, much prayer and lots of talks with our closest friends, we both started to realize that this was more than friendship.

Ryan left Arkansas the first of April in 2013. He asked me out to dinner that same night! We stayed busy after that, making trips back and forth to visit each other!

In September of 2013, I was asked to go back out to Arkansas to cook for camp-week. While I was there, Ryan showed up and surprised me!

One of my friends kept telling me that he was going to pop the big question that weekend, but I didn’t believe her. Ryan asked me if we could go on a date instead of joining the rest of our friends for a group activity that evening. He took me to a nice, quiet spot. It was such a beautiful evening. We talked for a long time before he actually asked me to marry him! And, of course, I gave my answer as quickly as possible.

I said, “yes!”

I’m so excited to see where all God is going take us on this adventure!”

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Baby Madison {portraits}

046O4007Meet Madison Paige. She’s barely been here for a week and she’s already brightening people’s lives with her sweet presence.

046O3975 046O3998 046O4029046O4063046O4090 046O4098 046O4111 046O4146Madison’s big brother, Bradley, was pleased as punch with his new little sister. He came in to check on her multiple times during the photoshoot and each time, begged in whispered tones, “May I please kiss her?!”

And who could blame him? She’s adorable.

046O4169 046O4174 046O4176 046O4217 046O4221 046O4248 046O4277 046O4301 046O4317 046O4376Jr and Beka, congratulations on the newest (and darling) member of your family! I feel so honored to know your sweet family.

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To Ethiopia with Love

Two and a half years have passed since I clicked the “Sponsor Me” button on Compassion’s web site. Thus began the years of correspondence and of brightly colored pictures arriving in my mailbox.

I had heard of people traveling overseas and actually meeting their sponsored child, but I never dreamed that it would be possible for me to meet Wubalem, the little girl I sponsor in Ethiopia. It wasn’t until one day last summer that I even considered the possibility.

I was planning to go visit my sister who lives in West Africa and was checking around for the best flight options. On that particular day, all the connecting flights flew through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All of them.

I got in contact with Compassion immediately and they helped begin the process of making this trip possible. I filled out paper work, cleared background checks and applied for visas for my mom and I.

Our time in West Africa came to an end, after spending five wonderful weeks with my sister. We boarded the plane and flew over the Sahara desert and landed in Ethiopia.

046O3539The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn and climbed in the Compassion vehicle and headed South, through the Rift Valley.

046O3647046O3611046O3683 046O3724We passed shepherds, herding flocks of sheep and oxen and even a train of camels. They weren’t so keen on sharing the road, so we pulled off and let them pass before we continued on our journey.

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We arrived at the Project around 2pm where we met Wubalem’s school teacher, pastor, and principal. They ushered us into the office. The smell of incense and freshly roasted coffee met us as we stepped inside. A coffee ceremony was being prepared for this special occasion.

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Without warning, Wubalem entered the office. Tiny, timid, but with big, trusting eyes.

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She greeted everyone there in the traditional way, and then sat next to me. There was silence for a moment, as all eyes were on me, then her, then back to me. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. “Did you have a good day?” I asked, looking at her. After the translator interpreted, she nodded. I knew that her eighth birthday was coming up. “What would you like to do for your birthday?” I asked. Her eyes shone as the words slipped from her mouth. “Maybe we will eat cake.”

But best of all, she told me that she would like to become a pilot when she grows up. Why? So she can fly to America to visit me.

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After a thorough tour of the school grounds and church building, we climbed into the Compassion vehicle and headed across town to Wubalem’s home where we would have the chance to meet her family.

We parked on a quiet street and walked towards Wubalem’s home. She lived in a poor section of town, but it looked clean and well kept. As we rounded a corner in the street, I could see through an open gate to a small gathering outside one particular home.

We stepped through the very same gate and moments later, were met by her family and a few curious neighbors. Wubalem’s dad greeted me first, speaking the few English words he knew, “I am Wubalem’s father.” Her mother emerged from the doorway and wrapped me in a tight hug. She told me through tears how much she loved me and appreciated what I did for her family.

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Throughout the visit, it became so evident to me that these people knew Jesus. There was light in their eyes and joy in their faces, in spite of the few possessions they had.

We were invited inside and sat down in their small, one roomed home. Crowded into their living room space, we exchanged stories. Wubalem’s mother sat across from me, cradling her baby girl. “You have helped my family so much. I am grateful to God for you,” she wiped the tears away from her eyes as she spoke. “God is so good to let you come and visit my family. Thank you, thank you.” she said.

“I grew up without a dad, but God always provided. No matter what. So, I am so happy to be able to share whatever I can with other people. And I have waited for this day to come for many months. I could not wait to meet you!” I said.

Wubalem’s father spoke up next. “Every time I think of you, I pray that God blesses you in return for the ways that you have blessed my family.” I let the words sink in slowly. Wubalem’s family prays for me. Somehow it had never occurred to me that these beautiful people from half way across the world prayed for me.

This sponsorship was so much bigger than I had ever imagined. It wasn’t only about what I could give to a needy child and her family. It was about a relationship that was impacting both of us. That day, I learned how giving and receiving intertwine.

The visit came to a conclusion much too soon, but the memory lives on forever in my heart.

046O4192 046O4254After the visit, we drove further South to this lake, where we watched the sunset.
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046O4520046O4584046O4562046O4649The people were so friendly and hospitable. The culture, so ancient, so rich and intriguing.

046O4672046O4662046O4674046O4689046O4677046O4713046O4728046O4748046O4731046O4757046O4798046O4795Back in the capital city, our hostess drove us around and introduced us to her favorite places and foods. She even took us to the cultural museum, knocking out her whole day just for us.

046O4802046O4805046O4827046O4833046O4902As the last sun set over that African horizon, we loaded our bags into our hostesses’ car and drove to the airport. It was hard to say good bye to this beautiful country with its charming people.

046O5177Goodnight, Africa.

So long, West Africa {part 5}

The time came too soon. The time to leave…

It meant hugging my nieces and my sister and her husband good-bye and getting on a plane and leaving them. Not knowing exactly when we’d see them again.

046O1556046O1533046O1633046O6821046O6771It meant saying goodbye to sunrises over that now-familiar African horizon.

046O0949 046O9342046O9310046O9355Goodbye, dust and smoke.

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Goodbye, little mill at the end of the road.

046O3375Goodbye to the neighbors.

046O3491 046O3493Goodbye to the friends I made on those evening walks around town.

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Goodbye, red roads with run-away mules stopping dead in their tracks to stare.

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Goodbye, darling children who lined up to have their picture made.

046O9984Goodbye, African sun.

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Hello, long ride in an airplane!

046O3531The journey of my time in Africa didn’t end in West Africa.

Part six, soon to follow.

Baby Aviella {Africa: Part 4}

Two weeks (to the day) after we arrived in West Africa, my niece was born.

I babysat the older niece during my sister’s labor and delivery. The moment that I got the phone call that the baby had arrived, we were dancing and twirling in the living room. “You can come and bring Talia up to the hospital,” the brother-in-law said. I grabbed a flashlight and locked the house and we walked hand in hand up the dusty street to the Baptist Missionary Hospital. Talia talked non-stop. “Are we donna do see da baby? Is da baby a boy or a dirl?”

Once we arrived at the hospital, I had trouble finding the correct room. We went to the wrong ward, then we found out that they had been moved to a private room away from the maternity ward. Finally, a nurse figured out who I was looking for and led me down a long corridor. “There,” she pointed to a doorway with double doors leading into the delivery room. I knocked, but there was no answer. Moments later, the doctor appeared and told me to sit and wait on a bench in the hallway. “They’ll bring the baby out momentarily.” I got my first glimpse of the bundled up new niece through the glass doors that led to the delivery room.

In that same hallway, I caught this moment of my brother-in-law introducing Talia to her new sister, Aviella Joy.

046O8741The remaining weeks that we had with my sister’s family revolved mostly around this little girl. Sleeping, eating, changing. Oh, and yawning. Because quite frankly, being a newborn is exhausting.

046O9053 046O9499 046O9515 046O9520 046O0926 046O0853046O1396046O1411The neighbors raised eyebrows very un-approvingly at the sight of my putting Aviella in the fufu pounder for pictures. Just for an extra safety feature, my mom stood just out of sight of these pictures, arms extended- ready to be my extra set of hands in case something went wrong.

No one was harmed in the making of these pictures. In fact, Aviella slept soundly through the whole incident.

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